What if I told you there was a fantasy book which had a story as expansive as Lord of the Rings, as bloody as Game of Thrones, and had dialogue in it which seemed like it came straight from the mind of Quentin Tarantino? Would you be interested in such a book?
You ’re in luck because that is exactly what you get with Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series.
The First Law series is a gritty low-fantasy world which is dominated by struggle between the European-style Union versus the Persian-style Gurkish Empire. There are other lands mentioned including a northern land of Viking-like barbarians who figure prominently into the storyline. There is magic in this world but it is exceedingly rare and seems to largely have passed out of the collective conscience as the timeline transitions to more enlightened times.
The setting is unimportant though because the real stars are the characters. These aren’t your typical fantasy archetypes – Abercrombie serves up a reprehensible group of morally bankrupted rogues and assorted nasties. There is the vainglorious and selfish Union officer, the half-feral Gurkish woman with a penchant for murder, and the highly unconventional and arrogant Wizard. The best two characters are the crippled mess that is the King’s Torturer – a dark hearted bastard who is brilliant, angry, and utterly ruthless – and a Viking Berserker who is trying to be a better man but has a little bit of a rage issue. In the spirit of all good fantasy, this highly dysfunctional group of monsters gets the job to save the world.
There are three books in the main trilogy and frankly, I shotgun read all three within a week and a half because they were that damn good. Despite the unsavory nature of the characters, I ended up caring deeply about their fates despite the darkness of their methods – hell, maybe because of them. These books are extremely funny but in a gallows humor kind of way – raised up by cinematic dialogue which owes more to Reservoir Dogs than The Hobbit. Seriously, the only series of fantasy books which has dialogue this good is the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. And the final 100 pages of the last book were the kind of gut punch which authors rarely indulge in anymore but you couldn’t imagine it ending any other way. The final scene is the most perfect fantasy book scene I have read.
As good as the trilogy was, Joe Abercrombie wrote three additional standalone novels set in the same setting which occur after the events of the trilogy and they were even better! The follow minor characters from the trilogy and their adventures in the changed world. The second of the stand alones was a book called The Heroes and it is set over a three day period where the Union and the Viking Northerners fight a battle and it is among my favorite books of all time. It is the only book in recent memory which I have read which actually caused me to tear up.
As you can tell, I’m a bit of an Abercrombie fan boy but seriously, these books are really good. Lots of people are trying to write ‘darker’ fantasy fiction but honestly, this guy’s books are the real deal and you want to read an adult fantasy series about hard hearted men and women saving the world through murder and mayhem, doing what needs to be done – if you laughed when Marvin got shot in the face in Pulp Fiction and wondered what that scene would have looked like if Vincent was holding a crossbow instead of a pistol, than this is the series for you.